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Capitol dome’s 3-year facelift unveiled

November 16, 2016 at 6:15 PM EST
In our NewsHour Shares moment of the day, the most recent restoration of the Capitol building is complete. We take a tour of the painstaking improvements.
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HARI SREENIVASAN: Now to our “NewsHour” Shares, something that caught our eye that might be of interest to you, too.

In 2013, major repairs began on the dome atop the U.S. Capitol. Yesterday, those much-needed renovations officially wrapped up.

The “NewsHour”‘s Julia Griffin filed this report from Capitol Hill.

STEPHEN AYERS, Architect of the Capitol: Good morning, everyone.

JULIA GRIFFIN: Architect of the Capitol, Stephen Ayers, stood before Washington’s iconic landmark to declare its latest renovation complete.

STEPHEN AYERS: The AOC’s motto is to serve, preserve and inspire, and we do so every day across this Capitol campus. But this one project was the most visible of all, the symbol of America’s democracy and the beacon of hope for millions around the world. And we delivered.

JULIA GRIFFIN: The current dome was added to the U.S. Capitol in the 1860s, even as the Civil War raged. Ever since, its nearly nine million pounds of cast-iron have stood tall amid political storms and literal ones.

The dome last saw major repairs in 1960, when rust-prohibiting paint turned it temporarily red. But, 50 years on, the Capitol’s main attraction had deteriorated once more. Surveyors found cracks and peeling paint were allowing moisture to seep in, threatening infrastructure, art work and people inside.

STEPHEN AYERS: We determined that it was time to intervene. We were losing too much historic and original material of the dome.

JULIA GRIFFIN: So, the latest nearly $60 million face-lift got under way. For nearly three years, workers stood on 1.1 million pounds of scaffolding to repair the more than 12,000 inches of cast-iron cracks.

The team restored the dome’s decorative ornaments and cupola windows, and placed white draping inside to protect the Rotunda below. That dome donut, as it was affectionately called, allowed interior repairs to go forward, while still giving the one million visitors a year a glimpse of the historical fresco above.

But this summer, as temperatures went up, the scaffolding started to come down, and workers applied more than 1,200 gallons of paint, appropriately named dome white, as a finishing touch along the way.

STEPHEN AYERS: It’s so important for us to have this grand Capitol Building to look magnificent and to truly be our nation’s stage.

JULIA GRIFFIN: Ayers now turns his attention to the next big event on Capitol Hill, the inauguration of president-elect Donald Trump.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Julia Griffin in Washington, D.C.

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